Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band is inching towards 50 years old.. Pretty unbelievable that an album that old can still have such an impact today. Nobody has put out a great album since 1967 that hasn’t been labeled “that band’s Sgt. Pepper” and it is still widely considered the most important album in Rock and Roll, although that could be debated when you factor in, there’d be no Pepper without Revolver and Revolver was just an answer to Pet Sounds, which was an answer to Rubber Soul…yada yada yada.
It’s easy to hear Sgt Pepper as a good collection of rock songs, especially if you weren’t around to hear it in context to the times like me. If you do a little digging, it’s easy to see why this album had such an impact. In 1967, some of the top songs were “To Sir with Love”” by Lulu, “I’m a Believer”, “Happy Together” and “Incense and Peppermints”. While these are all fine songs, sonicaly, they bear little resemblance to “A Day in the Life”, or “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds”. Where did The Beeatles come up with this stuff? In a market so saturated by “safe” easy pop music, where do they get the motivation to put out something as far out as “Strawberry Fields Forever” (a cut that, with Penny Lane, was originaly intended for Sgt. Pepper)?
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There is no denying that The Beatles are an important, if not critical, factor in the development of popular music but if you really look at it through the glasses of the time, it is only more amazing that they accomplished so much in so little time. Based on the overwhelming trends in the charts, especially in the pre Cream and Hendrix mid 60’s, The Beatles, as well as the Stones and Kinks, were really not that commercial in sound and style but managed to outsell everyone else on the charts. There is nothing remotely similar to the sweet sounds of Pat Boone and the thumping drums and loud guitars of “I Want to Hold Your Hand” and yet they manage to exist on the same charts at the same time.
Does all this say more for the music of The Beatles, that they could transcend popular trends and reestablish commercial appeal, or does it say more for the consumer of the 60’s who was able to listen to and appreciate a more diverse cross section of music? Could you imagine, on today’s radio, Britney Spears being played right after Metallica? Probably never happened and, yet, the equivalent was happening every day on radio stations around the world.
To listen to The Beatles now, it is obvious that they were a great band with unparalleled creative powers but, when put into the context of the times, it becomes increasingly clear that there importance has not been overstated, their impact has not been over analyzed and the discussion on their music has not been over spoken. Pop in your copy of Sgt. Pepper this week and marvel at what they were able to accomplish, successfully, in a time that was filled with much lighter fare.